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TickTockTech: The Evolving Retail Tech Landscape

February 27, 2024
By April Osburn

Every January the largest retailers and most innovative retail tech providers descend on the Javits Center in New York for NRF: Retail’s Big Show. This year was no exception, with hundreds making their stand on the expo floor to share what’s next for retail in 2024 and beyond.

About a month post-event, here are my thoughts on what will show up for retailers throughout the year and what is likely to stay on the show floor for future implementation.

AI is the big guy at the Big Show

Like almost all recent events across the Tech sector, AI stole the show at NRF this year. In fact, according to Salesforce data, only 3% of commerce organizations currently have no AI plans. And consumers are open to the implementation of AI to improve their buying journey.

Apart from the AI use cases that have been commonplace amongst large brands, like personalized customer service and product recommendations, generative AI has widened the horizons for what the technology can do for retailers.

It can enable retail marketing teams to build and manage attention grabbing campaigns, draft effective product descriptions for an ecommerce site, manage loss prevention and even optimize physical store layouts based on traffic. And as brands realize the cost and time savings AI implementation brings to their business, innovation in the space will only continue to grow.

Customer experience and employee experience are top of mind

Another key theme at NRF, and in the retail industry for years, is how businesses can improve the customer experience. In what seems like a lightbulb moment, retailers are now starting to realize that improving customer experience and improving employee experience go hand in hand.

Accelerated by the pandemic, the role of the store associate has changed drastically. Positions that previously only involved working the register have transformed to fulfillment experts for buy-online-pickup-in-store offerings, content creators and live streamers for social media engagement and more. Removing friction and providing employees with the tools they need to succeed is a necessity.

Retail decision makers know that reliable technology has the power to enable employees to excel at their jobs. From training to product search to transaction history and, of course, completing transactions, giving store associates access to easy-to-use technology in the workplace will not only improve their experience, but that of the customer as well.

Supply chain

Supply chain management has been the white whale for retailers for years and optimizing the journey from beginning to end was a headline theme at NRF this year, including a special one-day Supply Chain 360 Summit.

Automation and robotics technologies were prevalent among brands that help to connect end-to-end supply chain operations, enhancing efficiency and meeting customer expectations with transparency into the entire journey. The eruption of retail returns has also pushed brands to streamline the returns segment of the supply chain, to improve customer experience of course, but also to ensure inventory is back on the shelf quickly and efficiently.

The retail tech landscape will only continue to innovate across AI, employee and customer experience, supply chain and more. And no one business is going to take the cake across every area of advancement. While more emerging technologies like augmented reality “fitting rooms” keep retail tech momentum going, decision makers will continue to focus on what will make the biggest impact on their businesses now — and ultimately whatever will serve their bottom line.

As retailers look to the future and prioritize operational efficiency without compromising consumer satisfaction, our ears will continue to be on the ground looking for the next big thing in commerce.